United States Public Health Service
Commissioned Corps
Seal of the USPHS Commissioned Corps.png
USPHS Commissioned Corps emblem, which was fashioned after the Corps' official seal
Founded4 January 1889 (1889-01-04)[1]
Country United States
TypeUniformed service
RoleHealthcare and medical services
Size6,000+ officers[2]
Part of U.S. Public Health Service
HeadquartersDivision of Commissioned Corps Personnel and Readiness, North Bethesda, Maryland, U.S. (Rockville mailing address)
Motto(s)"Protecting, promoting and advancing the health and safety of the Nation!" and "In officio salutis"[3] (core values: Leadership, Service, Integrity, and Excellence)
ColorsBlue and Yellow-Gold    [4][5][6]
March"Public Health Service March"[7] Play 
AnniversariesCentennial, 1989
EngagementsSpanish–American War[8]
World War I[8]
World War II[8]
War in Afghanistan
Iraq War
USPH Presidential Unit Citation.svg
Presidential Unit Citation (2015 & 2021)
WebsiteUSPHS Commissioned Corps
Assistant Secretary for HealthADM Rachel Levine
Surgeon GeneralVADM Vivek Murthy
Deputy Surgeon GeneralRADM Denise Hinton

The United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC),[9] also referred to as the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service,[10] is the federal uniformed service of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) and one of the eight uniformed services of the United States. The commissioned corps' primary mission is the protection, promotion, and advancement of health and safety of the general public.

Along with the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is one of two uniformed services that consist only of commissioned officers and has no enlisted or warrant officer ranks, although warrant officers have been authorized for use within the service.[11] Officers of the commissioned corps are classified as noncombatants, unless directed to serve as part of the military by the president or detailed to a service branch of the military.[12] Members of the commissioned corps wear uniforms modeled after the United States Navy and the United States Coast Guard, with special PHS Commissioned Corps insignia, and hold naval ranks equivalent to officers of the Navy and Coast Guard, along with corresponding in-service medical titles. Commissioned corps officers typically receive their commissions through the commissioned corps's direct commissioning program.

As with its parent division, the Public Health Service, the commissioned corps is under the direction of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The commissioned corps is led by the surgeon general, who holds the rank of vice admiral.[13] The surgeon general reports directly to the Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary for health. The assistant secretary for health may be appointed to the rank of admiral if he or she is also a serving uniformed officer of the commissioned corps.[13]


The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps had its beginnings with the creation of the Marine Hospital Fund in 1798, which later was reorganized in 1871 as the Marine Hospital Service. The Marine Hospital Service was charged with the care and maintenance of merchant sailors, but as the country grew, so did the ever-expanding mission of the service. The Marine Hospital Service soon began taking on new expanding health roles that included such health initiatives that protected the commerce and health of America. One such role was quarantine.

John Maynard Woodworth, a famous surgeon of the Union Army who served under General William Tecumseh Sherman, was appointed in 1871 as the Supervising Surgeon. Woodworth's title was later changed to "Supervising Surgeon General," which later became the surgeon general. Woodworth is credited with the formal creation of the commissioned corps. Woodworth organized the Marine Hospital Service medical personnel along Army military structure in 1889 to facilitate a mobile force of health professionals that could be moved for the needs of the service and country. He established appointment standards and designed the Marine Hospital Service herald of a fouled anchor and caduceus. Later that year of 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed an Act into law that formally established the modern Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (then the Marine Hospital Service under the Supervising Surgeon (later Surgeon General)). At first open only to physicians, over the course of the twentieth century, the Corps expanded to 11 careers in a wide range of specialties to include veterinarians, dentists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, engineers, pharmacists, nurses, environmental health specialists, scientists, dietitians, and other allied health professionals.[14]

Today, the commissioned corps is under the United States Public Health Service (PHS), a major agency now of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), established by Congress in 1979–1980. It was previously established in 1953 as the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), and is still led by the surgeon general. The commissioned corps allocates officers to all of the other uniformed services depending on the health or medical needs of each service.

By the 1980s, the wearing of uniforms on a day-to-day basis was not consistently practiced. In 1987, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop advocated for consistent use of the uniform while on duty, although he allowed individual agencies to determine their own requirements. In 2004, Surgeon General Richard Carmona made uniforms compulsory whenever officers were on duty.[15]

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act established a Ready Reserve Corps for the PHSCC, but technical errors in the legislation prevented it from being implemented until the errors were corrected in the 2020 CARES Act.[16][17]

According to 5 U.S.C. § 8331, service in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps after June 30, 1960, is considered military service for retirement purposes. Under 42 U.S.C. § 213, active service in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is considered active military service for the purposes of most veterans' benefits and for antidiscrimination laws.[18]


The stated mission of the commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service is "Protecting, promoting, and advancing the health and safety of the Nation" in accordance with the commissioned corps's four Core Values: Leadership, Excellence, Integrity, and Service. Officers execute the mission of the commissioned corps in the following ways:

As of 2019, the most common agency for commissioned corps officers was the Indian Health Service, followed by the Food and Drug Administration, and then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increased benefits and pay of commissioned corps officers is considered especially beneficial for the Indian Health Service, where recruitment is difficult due to the remote locations of many of its jobs.[19]

In addition, the commissioned corps provides officers (Medical Officers, Dental Officers, Therapists, Environmental Health Officers, etc.) to other uniformed services, primarily the United States Coast Guard and the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). Commissioned corps officers may be detailed to other federal agencies including the Department of Defense, TRICARE, Department of Justice (Federal Bureau of Prisons), State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of the Interior (National Park Service). Commissioned Corps officers may develop individual memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with other organizations, including state and local health agencies, and even non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The commissioned corps is often called upon by other federal, state, and local agencies to aid and augment in times when those agencies' resources are overwhelmed. These responses are designated as deployments by the commissioned corps, if the deployment is outside of the officer's "normal" duties, and coordinated through the commissioned corps's Readiness and Deployment Branch (RDB) in Commissioned Corps Headquarters (CCHQ).[20] Deployments may be for technical needs in standard settings, or in the event of disasters, in austere environments.

The commissioned corps may be militarized by the president. 42 U.S.C. § 217 states:

In time of war, or of emergency involving the national defense proclaimed by the President, he may by Executive order declare the commissioned corps of the Service to be a military service. Upon such declaration, and during the period of such war or such emergency or such part thereof as the President shall prescribe, the commissioned corps (a) shall constitute a branch of the land and naval forces of the United States, (b) shall, to the extent prescribed by regulations of the President, be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. § 801 et seq., and (c) shall continue to operate as part of the Service except to the extent that the President may direct as Commander in Chief.


The commissioned corps is often deployed as part of the National Response Framework Emergency Support Function #8 – Public Health and Medical Services, but can be deployed outside of the Framework for various needs to other federal agencies, states, local governments, or even to aid foreign governments. Like all other federal-level responses, commissioned corps officers are deployed only upon request, and upon the recommendation of the surgeon general and permission of the assistant secretary for health. During deployments, commissioned corps officers may report to regular office spaces, such as coordinating responses at state-of-the-art emergency operations centers, or into the field in extremely austere environments, such as when responding to a natural disaster. In addition, deployments may either be on an individual basis, such as when specific skill sets are needed, or as part of a team, when large-scale responses are needed.

The commissioned corps organizes PHS officers into units for rapid deployment. PHS officers are either assigned to a pre-configured rapid deployment unit (RDU) or a group augmenting those units. PHS officers must be prepared to deploy within 48 hours of receipt of deployment orders.[21] Rapid deployment units include Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) teams that are made up of over 100 officers with multiple specialties, and are focused on providing acute clinical care of disaster-exacerbated chronic conditions. Officers who do not work as a clinical care provider on one of these teams are often in support roles, such as logistics, administration/finance, or planning. Tier 2 teams are composed of a smaller, more specialized workforce. Other rapid deployment units include the Applied Public Health Team (APHT), the Mental Health Team (MHT), and the Services Access Team (SAT). PHS officers not already assigned to one of the rapid deployment units are used to augment the other teams in the event of staffing shortages due to availability, or the need to scale up a response.

They are trained and equipped to respond to public health crises and national emergencies, such as natural disasters, disease outbreaks, or terrorist attacks. The teams are multidisciplinary and are capable of responding to domestic and international humanitarian missions. Some notable deployments involving the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps include:[22]

In addition to disaster response, the commissioned corps frequently partners with the United States Navy on their health diplomacy missions. Commissioned Corps officers have been part of the Navy's Pacific Partnership (in the Pacific basin) and Continuing Promise (in the Caribbean/west Atlantic) since 2007. Such missions are often carried out on either the Navy's commissioned hospital ships, the USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) or USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), though other ships, such as the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5), have also been used. The command staff of the PHS deployed team(s) is deployed for the entire mission duration (often three months), while operational personnel serve one month aboard, meeting and departing the ships at the ports of call during the mission.

The commissioned corps, as a uniformed service, may be militarized and considered a branch of the armed forces by an act of Congress, or by executive order by the President of the United States, not only in time of war, but in "an emergency involving the national defense proclaimed by the President." Major militarization of the corps occurred during World War II and another later during the Korean War.[30]

Uniforms, ranks and insignia

Main article: United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officer rank insignia

Service Dress Blues
Service dress blues
Summer Whites
Summer whites
Service Khakis
Service khakis
U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps uniforms
PHSCC combination cap device
PHSCC cap, collar, and sleeve device
PHSCC lapel pin (for civilian dress)
U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps insignia

The service adopted naval ranks in order to impose military discipline on the doctors of the service,[31] and corresponded their service rank and grade with their medical title. The service interchanges officer ranks and service titles when referring to their grade.

Commissioned corps officers wear uniforms similar to those of the United States Navy and the United States Coast Guard with special Public Health Service insignia. Their service dress blues, summer whites, and service khakis have been modeled after the Navy's versions, and their operational dress uniform was modeled after the Coast Guard's.

In certain duty situations, a commissioned corps officer can be detailed to work with another uniformed service. For example, the NOAA Corps and Coast Guard do not commission medical officers, so the commissioned corps details medical officers to support both services as needed. The commissioned corps provides a number of officers to support the Coast Guard throughout the country, including within the Coast Guard's senior leadership.[32] Because of this close relationship, if a commissioned corps officer is on assignment with the Coast Guard, the officer is required to wear the same service uniforms as commissioned Coast Guard officers, but still wearing the insignia of the commissioned corps to identify them. The commissioned corps officer is subject to the grooming standards of the service to which attached for uniform appearance.

The commissioned corps uses the same commissioned officer rank structure as the United States Navy and Coast Guard: from ensign to admiral (O-1 through O-10).[33] Commissioned corps officers are typically appointed via direct commission and must complete a two-week officer basic course (OBC) before entering active duty.[34] Commissioned corps officers receive the same pay and benefits as other members of the uniformed services. They cannot hold a dual commission with another uniformed service but inter-service transfers are permitted via 10 U.S.C. § 716.

The commissioned corps is authorized to use warrant officer ranks W-1 to W-4[35] but does not currently use these ranks.

Unlike their armed forces counterparts, commissioned corps officers do not require their rank appointments and promotions to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and only require approval from the president.[36] Officers serving as assistant secretary for health[37] and the surgeon general[38] however, do require senatorial confirmation due to their status as senior federal officials.

Uniformed services pay grade Special grade O-10 O-9 O-8 O-7 O-6 O-5 O-4 O-3 O-2 O-1 Officer candidate
United States Public Health Service
US PHS O10 insignia.svg
US PHS O9 insignia.svg
US PHS O8 insignia.svg
US PHS O7 insignia.svg
US PHS O6 insignia.svg
US PHS O5 insignia.svg
US PHS O4 insignia.svg
US PHS O3 insignia.svg
US PHS O2 insignia.svg
US PHS O1 insignia.svg
Admiral Vice admiral Rear admiral Rear admiral
(lower half)
Captain Commander Lieutenant commander Lieutenant Lieutenant
(junior grade)
Title Assistant Secretary for Health Surgeon general Deputy surgeon general or
Assistant surgeon general
Assistant surgeon general Director Senior Full Senior assistant Assistant Junior assistant
NATO code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student officer

Officer specialty rates

The members of the commissioned corps number over 6,000 officers in 11 professional categories:

The Health Services Officer (HSO) category comprises over 50 allied health specialties, including audiology, social workers, physician assistants, optometrists, statisticians, computer scientists, dental hygienists, medical records administrators, medical technologists and others.

Ready Reserve Corps

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed by President Obama on 23 March 2010, established the Ready Reserve Corps of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps as the new surge capacity for the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. The ready reserve corps is intended to fulfill the need for additional commissioned personnel on short notice to assist Regular Corps personnel for both routine public health and emergency response missions during involuntary calls to active duty.[40]

All Reserve Corps officers who were serving on extended active duty on 23 March 2010 were converted to Regular Corps officers. The same legislation also abolished the Inactive Reserve Corps (IRC) on 23 March 2010, and consequently the commissions of the existing 10,000 commissioned corps IRC officers. The IRC consisted of inactive reservists voluntarily activating to provide over 3,000 active-duty days annually for routine and public health emergencies including during Hurricane Katrina and other emergency response missions and in providing surge capacity for numerous shortages in isolated and hardship underserved areas. Inactive reservists also played roles in the humanitarian shipboard training missions with other uniformed services.[40]

A Ready Reserve Corps Working Integrated Project Team was convened in April 2010 to propose policy concepts, a strategic framework, and a budget. It submitted its final report in June 2010. As of late 2010, the directives and policies to implement the Ready Reserve awaited Secretarial decisions.[40]

However, due to a technical error, the ACA failed to include statutory authority for pay and benefits, preventing the Ready Reserve Corps from being activated.[16] Efforts to pass legislation to correct these errors picked up in late 2019.[41] Funding was finally approved through the CARES Act, passed on March 18, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[17] The first officers were expected to be commissioned in the first half of 2021.[16]

March of the United States Public Health Service

PHS March performed by the U.S. Coast Guard Band

Like most other U.S. uniformed services, the U.S. Public Health Service has a march and accompanying lyrics. Composed by retired U.S. Coast Guard Senior Chief Musician George King III in the late 1980s,[42] the lyrics are as follows:

The mission of our service is known the world around
In research and in treatment no equal can be found
In the silent war against disease no truce is ever seen
We serve on the land and the sea for humanity
The Public Health Service Team[43]

See also


  1. ^ "PHS Commissioned Corps History". Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  2. ^ "U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps". Surgeongeneral.gov. 18 March 2019. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Consultant's Report PHS/Coast Guard". epubs.democratprinting.com. Retrieved Apr 2, 2020.
  4. ^ "Commissioned Corps Personnel Manual 29.9.1" (PDF). dcp.psc.gov. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  5. ^ "U.S. PHS Commissioned Officer Training Academy". dcp.psc.gov. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Public Health Service (U.S.)". fotw.info. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  7. ^ other(s), Jarminator CMS 3.0 created by Dwayne Jarman, DVM, MPH - page ontent created by. "Ensemble". dcp.psc.gov. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  8. ^ a b c "Home - Commissioned Officers Association". www.coausphs.org. Archived from the original on 28 November 2009. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  9. ^ "U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps". Surgeongeneral.gov. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  10. ^ "USPHS: About Us". www.usphs.gov. Archived from the original on 10 July 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  11. ^ "42 U.S. Code § 204 - Commissioned Corps and Ready Reserve Corps". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  12. ^ "10 U.S. Code § 802 - Art. 2. Persons subject to this chapter". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  13. ^ a b "U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  14. ^ "USPHS: Career & Benefits". usphs.gov. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  15. ^ Landman, Keren (2019-06-24). "For America's Public Health Officers, Questions of Duty and Purpose". Undark Magazine. Retrieved 2020-07-11.
  16. ^ a b c Hamon, Caitlin (2020-04-14). "USPHS Ready Reserve Corps Becomes Law With the CARES Act". Military Officers Association of America. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  17. ^ a b Lawrence, Quil (April 15, 2020). "Public Health Service Poised To Create A Ready Reserve To Fight The Coronavirus". NPR. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  18. ^ "Title 42 - The Public Health and Welfare" (PDF). U.S. Government Printing Office.
  19. ^ Landman, Keren (2019-06-24). "For America's Public Health Officers, Questions of Duty and Purpose". Undark Magazine. Retrieved 2020-07-11.
  20. ^ "Commisisoned Corps Deployments: Public Health Emergency Responders". Usphs.gov. September 19, 2014. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  21. ^ POM 821.76, Deployment Procedures
  22. ^ a b US Department of Health and Human Services. Emergency Response at Commissioned Corps Archived 2010-11-30 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Knight, William B. (1992). The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps' Role in Disaster Response (PDF). Fort McNair, Washington, D.C: The Industrial College of the Armed Forces. pp. 12–27. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 30, 2021.
  24. ^ Holcomb, William (December 2000). "The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps: A Need for Engineers". Military Medicine. 165 (12): 3–4. doi:10.1093/milmed/165.12.949. PMID 11149068.
  25. ^ "DCP.PSC.gov". Dcp.psc.gov. Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  26. ^ "USPHS: Error occurred!". www.usphs.gov. Archived from the original on 18 March 2013. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  27. ^ "FACT SHEET: Unaccompanied Children from Central America". whitehouse.gov. 20 June 2014 – via National Archives.
  28. ^ "FACT SHEET: U.S. Response to the Ebola Epidemic in West Africa". whitehouse.gov. 16 September 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2017 – via National Archives.
  29. ^ "Treating Those Treating Ebola in Liberia" article by Sheri Fink in The New York Times, November 5, 2014
  30. ^ "DCP.PSC.gov" (PDF). Dcp.psc.gov. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 November 2005. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  31. ^ Luckwaldt, Adam (2018-12-09). "The Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service". The Balance Careers. Retrieved 2021-03-01.
  32. ^ The Coast Guard's chief medical officer is a rear admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
  33. ^ "42 U.S. Code § 207 - Grades, ranks, and titles of commissioned corps". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2021-10-20.
  34. ^ "Commissioned Corps Management Information System". dcp.psc.gov. Retrieved 2021-10-20.
  35. ^ 42 U.S.C. § 204 - Commissioned Corps and Ready Reserve Corps
    42 U.S.C. § 207 - Grades, ranks, and titles of commissioned corps
    42 U.S.C. § 209 - Appointment of personnel
  36. ^ "S.679 - Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, 112th Congress (2011-2012)". U.S. Congress. 10 August 2012. Retrieved 2021-10-20.
  37. ^ "42 U.S. Code § 202 - Administration and supervision of Service". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2021-10-20.
  38. ^ "42 U.S. Code § 205 - Appointment and tenure of office of Surgeon General; reversion in rank". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2021-10-20.
  39. ^ Levine, Rachel L. (2022-04-06). "Commissioned Corps Instruction 322.03, "Flag Grade Positions and Promotion"" (PDF). dcp.psc.gov. Retrieved 2022-08-16.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  40. ^ a b c "Ready Reserve Corps Update". US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Office of Reserve Affairs, Commissioned Corps E-Bulletin. 2 September 2010. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  41. ^ Maucione, Scott (2019-11-04). "Public Health Service gets congressional attention for ready reserve corps". Federal News Network. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  42. ^ "Images From the History of the Public Health Service: Supplementary Materials". www.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  43. ^ . 7 January 2013 https://web.archive.org/web/20130107225808/http://videocast.nih.gov/closedcaptions/phs120612.txt. Archived from the original on 7 January 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2018. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |title= (help)

Further reading